And now the post, and understand that I am looking at more than my school, I am thinking about incidents across a 166 or more schools urban school district:
We were asked not to discuss specifics, etc. and I am going to honor that. But I have some general observations based on this ongoing problem of students bringing weapons to school. As someone who works in a secondary school, the issue interests me greatly. I read and follow each story as it appears in the media. I have been thinking about this for years.
Observation 1: Overall, the schools remain safe. Despite students having weapons, I can recall only one incident where a weapon was used. (It was not a gun.) That was in defense after the student tried to walk away from an aggressor. It is very important that we understand that weapons are being found on campus, but they are not being used.
Observation 2: The incidents involve student disputes. They are about individual, specific situations that are not related to what is going on at school. Problems come in from the neighborhood. Therefore, parents should allow their fears to lessen unless they know that their child is involved in a dispute that the adolescents will not resolve or get past. If that is the case, the parents need to notify the school so intervention can take place before a student decides he/she needs to carry a weapon.
Observation 3: Each time it happens, the student involved expresses fear in relation to aggression from another student. Usually that fear is for times of transition to and from school. At school, with School Resource Officers, security personnel, active administrators, and alert staff, students feel safe. They leave the weapon in their vehicle or otherwise hide it. It is on the way home when they fear for their safety.
Observation 4: Punishment won’t solve the problem. If a student is in fear for his/her safety, is the threat of a suspension going to have an effect? There has to be consequences: expulsion and prosecution for the severity of the offense. But we must also recognize that we need alternatives that address root causes before a student brings a weapon. Putting intervention and counseling programs only at the alternative school is not working. We need to get support programs into neighborhood schools.
Observation 5: The new student code of conduct, which standardizes consequences, was an improvement. But it cannot stand on its own. On its own, students get (and have gotten) the idea that there is no punishment for misbehavior. Embedded in a comprehensive approach of encouragement and reward for appropriate behavior, intervention and support for problematic behavior, and consequences for infractions, the student code of conduct will perform at the desired level of effectiveness. However, while terms like positive behavioral support and restorative justice are thrown around, implementation is wanting.
Observation 6: Academics and conduct are part of the same continuum like space and time are one continuum. Few people understand this. Much of classroom misbehavior stems from bored students entertaining themselves inappropriately. Then someone gets mad, a dispute or altercation breaks out, then teachers complain about no support, then administrators blame teachers for a lack of management, and the cycle goes on. If we improve student engagement, misbehavior goes down and what does occur happens at lower levels of severity. This is not only a teacher problem, though; administrators need to be active and visible in classrooms every day. When they are not, even when they say other concerns occupy their time, things spiral down.
Observation 7: Student conduct, at all levels of severity, is a systemic problem. Systemic problems are not solved by focusing on one aspect such as code of conduct, transitions, or punishment policies. Systemic problems demand a comprehensive approach or else the displaced bad energy reappears somewhere else in the system. Problems move but they are not solved. Changing people does not work. The problems persist under new leadership because they are systemic.
Observation 8: The Jacksonville Journey is an example of a systemic approach to a severe problem of misconduct (murder rate). When it was implemented fully, the misconduct diminished in frequency. Something of the same approach and commitment needs to happen in our schools.